Oct 222008

I could live with Kurt Sauer‘s hit on Andrei Kostitsyn. It’s a fast game and it happens when people are hitting others – the arms come up sometimes to protect themselves and near the boards is always a dangerous area to be. What I don’t get, however, is what Georges Laraque was supposed to accomplish.

There are only a handful of teams out there who dress their tough guys fairly regularly: Montreal with Laraque, Minnesota with Derek Boogaard, Pittsburgh with Eric Godard, Atlanta with Eric Boulton, Anaheim with George Parros (who is on a scoring streak), Buffalo with Andrew Peters, Calgary with Andre Roy, St. Louis with Cam Janssen and now David Koci, and the Coyotes with Todd Fedoruk and Brian McGrattan. It goes without saying that coaches choose to play these players 2-5 minutes a night to ensure the safety of their star players, but it does take two to tango, and what if the opposition refuses to fight and pull a Sauer? Instead of dropping the gloves with Laraque, he choose to do it with a much smaller Tom Kostpoulos, who in the process is made to look absolutely silly. So… what’s the point of dressing Laraque? Sauer refused to dance, and there was nothing the Habs, Sergei Kostitsyn, or Laraque could do about it. Obviously there was some sort of thought in the back of Guy Carbonneau‘s head that told him Sauer would willingly respond to Laraque and keep the “fighter’s code,” but he didn’t.

Of course this brings us back to the “unwritten” code amongst NHLers, in which borderline hits on star players have to be answered, but Sauer was always in the driver’s seat. He made the hit and dictated how the Habs would respond. This also goes back to the Ottawa-Buffalo brawl, in which Lindy Ruff sent out Peters and Patrick Kaleta (EDIT: not Kaleta, but Adam Mair and Paul Gaustad as PeterS points out) on purpose against Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley to avenge Chris Neil‘s borderline hit on Chris Drury. The Sens made the hit, and in the process made the Sabres look like a goon squad with Ruff taking the brunt of it.

So what does having a “heavyweight” accomplish? The only upside is that it’s supposed to protect your players and intimidate the other team, but judging from Kostopoulos’ face it sure didn’t do anything to faze Sauer. Teams that regularly dress their heavyweights are wasting 2-5 minutes of ice-time per game, instead of giving that ice-time to quality players. If heavyweights are supposed to dictate the tone of the game, or even just to provide some sort of spark, the Habs and Laraque failed miserably in that department. Sauer’s not dumb enough to take on Laraque, and I don’t imagine many players in the league are. So, really, what’s the point?

Oct 202008

The only thing that’s saving the Ducks from being the worst in the league is their one win (4-0 vs. SJ). Some teams have traditionally been off to bad starts (Dallas), but the hockey the Ducks have been playing have been horrendous. In six games, the Ducks’ top offensive weapons in Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Teemu Selanne, and Chris Kunitz have only combined for a measly 3 points and -18. Instead, it’s the third liners that have done most of the scoring, led by veteran linemates Rob Niedermayer and Travis Moen, both with 4 points. I find it a little surprising that the usually vocal Brian Burke and Randy Carlyle have remained mum on their star players’ disappearing acts, but they probably know something we don’t know. The Ducks will continue to fall if their players refuse to show up for games. Some of the lack of scoring can be attributed to the penalties the Ducks have taken (Getzlaf, Perry, and Selanne aren’t regular penalty killers), but it’s no excuse for 4.2% powerplay. When will they start showing up? How long before Burke makes some noise?

The Pacific Division will be no contest this year if the Sharks continue to play they are – with something to prove. Asides from the loss to the Ducks, the Sharks are 5-0 with a goal differential of +10 (18-8). That is the best ratio in the West, and it shouldn’t be surprising. Jonathan Cheechoo is off to a great start with 4 goals and Patrick Marleau has been pretty good with 4 points. The powerplay is only clicking at 12.5%, but with Todd McLellan behind the bench (he managed Detroit’s powerplay in years past), that number should increase substantially by December. The question is though, how long can the Sharks keep this up? It’s early in the season and the Cup is months away – will the Sharks burn out? The toughest thing in pro hockey is to stay motivated, and will Cheechoo and Marleau be able to keep that pace?

Drew Doughty has been great for the Kings. He has yet to register a point, but is a healthy +2 and logs just under 20 minutes of ice-time per game (19:59). He’s making a strong case for himself to stick around full-time, especially now with Jack Johnson out for an extended period of time. The Kings are a surprising 2-2 to start, with a emphatic win over the cross-town rival Ducks while managing to keep the Sharks on their toes with their home-and-home series at the start of the season. The Kings have only scored 1 more goal than their opponents, and that will be a problem as the season goes on. Jason LaBarbera is playing just fine for now, but he’s no NHL starter. The Kings are only one of three teams (Minnesota and Buffalo) that have had perfect PK so far. Can the Kings play spoiler this year?

The Stars are off to a terrible start and so is Marty Turco, especially after a 6-1 drubbing by the Blues. As stated previously the Stars are slow starters, but they’ve allowed 13 goals in their 3 losses, and with such a defensively tight team it’s unacceptable. The Stars are really feeling the effects of not having Sergei Zubov. Captain Brenden Morrow has been frustrated and he’s starting to take some bad penalties, and along with linemate Mike Ribeiro (they were separated briefly against the Avs), own the team’s worst +/- at -4 and -6, respectively. Fabian Brunnstrom made noise with a hat trick in his debut, and the Stars will look to him to provide some scoring after letting Nik Hagman and Miettinen walk. When will the Stars turn it around?

The Coyotes’ 2-3 start is rather pedestrian, but with a 12-17 GF-GA ratio it’s a little alarming, considering that adding Kurt Sauer and having Ilya Bryzgalov on board for a full season should help defensively. Olli Jokinen has not disappointed, with 6 points in 5 games, while Kyle Turris has pitched in nicely with a goal and 3 helpers, making an early case for a Calder nomination. Trading away Nick Boynton and Keith Ballard took a lot of Phoenix’s depth away, and it’s showing, with the third pairing of David Hale and Keith Yandle both an awful -5. The desert dogs have some cap room to play with and may opt to bring in a veteran presence to their blueline – perhaps either Rhett Warrener, Anders Eriksson, or Kyle McLaren?

Oct 052008

The Desert Dogs of old were a complete joke. A complete country club team that didn’t hold any high regards in proper team building or hiring the right personnel. Now that there’s a new management in place, the Coyotes have made strides and have really become one of the West’s dark horses.

Bringing in Olli Jokinen was huge. The big centre, despite apparent locker room problems, brings an extra dynamic to the Coyotes’ gritty offense, and for the first time in a long time Shane Doan has a legitimate centre to play with. That’s not to saw that Peter Mueller, Kyle Turris, Mikkel Boedker, or Martin Hanzal don’t have the talent, it’s just that they’re not quite there yet, and allowing them to really play with the truly underrated Doan and an elite centre in Jokinen will help them make big strides. The top six is well-rounded and talented, especially if Turris delivers, after much hype at the draft and being personally touted by Wayne Gretzky as one of the league’s future stars. After the team’s top six, however, it gets interesting. Dan Carcillo is really establishing himself as the league’s next Sean Avery without the comments, and it’ll be interesting to see when the division rivals match-up. Carcillo has good hands, as evidenced by his 13 goals, and plays a game that is actually quite similar to Doan’s. Needless to say, you can never have too many of those kind of players and Carcillo will be staying in the desert for quite some time. Then there’s Steven Reinprecht, the veteran who has somewhat faded into obscurity, but still provides a strong veteran presence. Then there’s the two new additions, Todd Fedoruk and Brian McGrattan. Traditionally most teams have carried only one or two enforcers, but the Coyotes felt that they needed more than what would’ve sufficed, and it remains to be seen if this is a good move or not. Neither player can provide regular minutes like Carcillo, and the Coyotes have hinted towards both players dressing for Opening Night.

Losing Keith Ballard and Nick Boynton hurt, but it’s nothing the Coyotes can’t overcome. Ed Jovanovski had a bounce-back season and is looking like the player the Coyotes committed $6.5m/year to. Derek Morris provides yet another veteran presence, and his increasing consistency made Boynton expendable, while Zbynek Michalek has also become another dependable body, averaging just over 21 minutes in ice-time last year. However, perhaps the most valuable player on their blue line could very well be the underrated Kurt Sauer. The former Av doesn’t do anything special, and his offensive game is close to non-existent, but he does use his 6’4″, 220 lbs. frame to great use and is as dependable a stay-at-home as any in the league. He won’t be expected to become a gamebreaker, but count on Gretzky to use him when protecting leads – the Coyotes posted only a .818 winning percentage when leading after 2 periods – a mediocre 22nd in the league.

Goaltending has always been a problem, but it won’t anymore with Ilya Bryzgalov on board for a full season. The Russian netminder is now a NHL starter, after playing second fiddle to Jean-Sebastien Giguere for some time in Anaheim. There’s nothing to worry about in this department.

Believe it or not, the Coyotes have tons of cap space. This is because asides from Jokinen and Jovanovski’s big contracts, and then Doan and Morris’ mid-level ones, everyone else is either on a rookie contract or sub-million contract. Don Maloney’s new philosophy is to not splurge on potential free agent busts, but to really build from within, and the Coyotes have done a great job in drafting over the past couple of years to keep their pipeline healthy and stocked. They could potentially make a run at a playoff spot and surprise some in the playoffs, and should that scenario be likely Maloney has tons of money to work with to land a big name player.

Projected lineup:
Shane Doan – Olli Jokinen – Peter Mueller
Dan Carcillo – Kyle Turris – Enver Lisin
Steven Reinprecht – Martin Hanzal – Mikkel Boedker
Todd Fedoruk – Dan Winnik – Joel Perrault

Zbynek Michalek – Ed Jovanovski
Kurt Sauer – Derek Morris
Keith Yandle – Matt Jones

Ilya Bryzgalov – Mikael Tellqvist

scratches: Brian McGrattan, Viktor Tikhonov, David Hale

Coach: Wayne Gretzky
GM: Don Maloney

Predicted finish: 4th Pacific, 8th West

The American Dream

 Los Angeles Kings, media, Phoenix Coyotes, St. Louis Blues  Comments Off on The American Dream
Aug 282008

“It’s very important for us to put on a great show in Kansas City. We owe it to Kansas City. Because we have so many good young players, we’re able to do this.”

Those were Kings president Luc Robitaille‘s words, when asked about the Kings’ exhibition game on September 22, reported by the Kansas City Star. The Kings kick off their preseason with two simultaneous games on the 22nd, splitting up their training camp roster of 60 to play against St. Louis in Kansas, and Phoenix in LA. Paul McGannon, who is the head promoter of the game, had this to add:

“They are bringing their best players. We went over that before we scheduled the game. They want Kansas City to work, and they want a good showing, and as owner-operators of the building, they want to put their best step forward… Those folks wouldn’t be coming up for a B-squad.”

Question, Mr. McGannon, who, exactly, is “we,” “they,” and “those folks”? It’s probably the NHL’s worst kept secret that they want their preseason games in non-NHL cities to work (financially), especially in Kansas City and Las Vegas, where it’s being held at the prestigious MGM Grand. These preseason games will be auditions for future destinations for folding or re-locating franchises – Hamilton, of course, is not an option, having no NHL preseason games scheduled there. Apparently, Robitaille has promised McGannon that the Kings will send their best players to Kansas City, including the likes of Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Jack Johnson, and Drew Doughty. While I’m all for promoting hockey throughout the States and Europe, this move does not speak highly of the NHL or the Kings.

For the NHL, to the surprise of no one, Gary Bettman is more interested in money matters than the game itself. Bettman’s trying to sell the game too hard, in my humble opinion. His rule changes, made to allow for more scoring and hence more excitement, is obviously not working as well as league revenue reports make them out to be (Honestly, isn’t a 2-1 nailbiter more exciting than a 7-3 blowout?). A lot of the NHL’s revenue these days is based upon the strong Canadian dollar and very low revenue expectations from the onset of the new CBA. To ensure that this whole Kansas City experiment isn’t a bust, the Kings are sending (perhaps Bettman asked) their top players to that game, in the hopes of generating more hype… because apparently Los Angeles is already bit by the hockey bug. Bettman needs to realize that he needs to fix the status quo. McGannon made reference to Kansas City as possibly a potential destination for a NBA team (there’s going to be exhibition game there too) , and I can’t help but wonder if Bettman’s trying to compete with the NBA. I say drop it, Bettman, there’s no way you can win that battle.

For the Kings, it’s really a dumb move to stockpile all your good players on one team for an exhibition game. I don’t think there’s any need to elaborate more on that. The Kings seem to be the puppet, the test rat, the human experiment, of the NHL. The Kings should be more concerned about how to flesh out the rest of their roster than figuring out who to send to Kansas.

The Kings and the NHL don’t owe Kansas anything.

Aug 162008

The Hockey News’ Rankings in the Yearly Yearbook were released, and for the West they’re as follows:

1 Detroit Red Wings
2 San Jose Sharks
3 Minnesota Wild
4 Dallas Stars
5 Anaheim Ducks
6 Edmonton Oilers
7 Chicago Blackhawks
8 Calgary Flames
9 Nashville Predators
10 Phoenix Coyotes
11 Vancouver Canucks
12 Columbus Blue Jackets
13 Los Angeles Kings
14 Colorado Avalanche
15 St. Louis Blues

Detroit at the top is an absolute no-brainer. They won the Cup and somehow got better by adding Marian Hossa. They’ve got Pavel Datsyuk locked up for awhile, and it’s hard to see Henrik Zetterberg not follow suit. Niklas Kronwall, and to a lesser extent, Jonathan Ericsson, look to take over Nicklas Lidstrom‘s mantle when he retires. They’re going to remain a powerhouse for years to come.

I have a hard time believing Minnesota will finish atop the Northwest Division. They lost key offensive pieces in Pavol Demitra and Brian Rolston, and replaced them with two aging veterans (Owen Nolan, Andrew Brunette) and a mid-level winger in Antti Miettinen. Their biggest acquisition is Marek Zidlicky, but the Flames have improved more – Calgary’s the early division favourite.

I don’t think the Oilers will finish that high. Adding Lubomir Visnovsky was huge, but they will miss Jarret Stoll‘s shot on the PP. Erik Cole was also another nice add, but I don’t think Visnovsky and Cole makes them better than the Coyotes. Their biggest question mark remains in net, and with some quality goaltending in the West that might be their downfall.

The Coyotes to me are a playoff team – they’ve got a talented forwards, a responsible captain, a respectable defense highlighted by a rejuvenated Ed Jovanovski, and good goaltending from Ilya Bryzgalov. The dogs have tons going for them, and with Kyle Turris expected to make the squad out of training camp the team will be loaded with offense, led by the newly-acquired Olli Jokinen, who might get his first taste of playoff hockey this season.

How the Kings are ahead of the Avs and Blues is beyond me. Technically, they don’t even exist in the NHL because they’ve yet to reach the salary floor. Even with they do be re-signing all their RFAs, their team is laughable at best, and just might win the Calder Cup. This team needs at least two more season to grow before they’re even a playoff contender – it looks like they’re going for the John Tavares sweepstakes and rebuilding Pittsburgh-style.

The Avs, even without Joe Sakic for most of the season, remained competitive until the late stages of the season. Should Sakic retire, they don’t have a player to take over as captain or offensive dynamo yet, although Paul Stastny comes close. A healthy Ryan Smyth and having Adam Foote for a whole season, with some of Darcy Tucker‘s toughness, will make them a respectable squad, but like the Oilers, their biggest question mark remains in net.

Stay tuned for the East.

Sep 242007

Over the next week I am going to be posting brief reviews of what we can expect from each team in the NHL for the upcoming season. Included will be some team strengths and weaknesses as well as some question marks for what to look for and a final outlook. The question marks will be an indication of what might occur and if it does they could finish better than I expect. Finally, once all the previews are complete I will post my final standings predictions. So, lets start off in the Pacific Division.

Anaheim Ducks
-One of the best goaltending tandems in the league.
-The experience of winning the Stanley Cup.
-Young talent in Getzlaf, Perry, Ryan.
-Chris Pronger (and Niedermayer if he returns)
-For whatever reason, recently teams that make the Stanley Cup finals have struggled the following season.
-The loss of Selanne, Niedermayer and Penner takes a lot away from last years cup wining team.
-Questionable health of newcomers Bertuzzi and Schneider
Question Marks:
-Will Niedermayer or Selanne return at some point?
-Can Bertuzzi become the 25 goal, 60+ point guy the Ducks need him to be?
-Will they eventually trade Bryzgalov for some help elsewhere.
-The Ducks should easily make the playoffs but defending the Stanley Cup is going to be difficult with the current lot of players as they likely haven’t adequately replaced the performances of Selanne, Niedermayer and Penner. Of course, that all changes should Niedermayer return because the Ducks would then have an insanely good defense that no team could come close to matching.

Dallas Stars
-Goaltending with Marty Turco and Mark Smith.
-One of the better defensive teams in the league.
-They will struggle to score goals.
Question Marks:
-Can Mike Modano, at age 37, return to a point per game player after a sub-par year in 2006-07.
-How much does 37 year old Sergei Zubov have left in the tank to anchor their power play.
-When you look at the Dallas roster you wonder how they managed to have back to back seasons of 112 and 107 points but you have to give them credit for getting them done. It is probably fair to expect more or less the same this season and a playoff spot but unless they can figure out how to score some goals they can’t be considered a true cup contender.

Los Angeles Kings
-Young talent in Frolov, Cammalleri, Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Patrick O’Sullivan, Jack Johnson and Jonathan Bernier.
-Added some good depth (for the short term) with the signings of Nagy, Handzus, Calder, Preissing and Stuart.
-Lots of salary cap space going forward to continue rebuilding process.
-To say goaltending is a weakness is an understatement. They were bad last year and probably their best goalie Mathieu Garon walked via free agency. That leaves Jason LaBarbera, who had a solid year in the AHL last year but isn’t generally highly regarded, a very weak backup in Aubin and a 19 year old prospect in Bernier.
Question Marks:
-Will they risk Bernier’s confidence/development and give him an opportunity to play or will the trade for a goalie (Martin Gerber??).
-This is no doubt going to be a transition year for the Kings. I can’t see them making the playoffs, or even being close, but as a franchise they are headed in the right direction. They have lots of young talent and I expect them to be big players in next years free agent market as they have a lot of cap room and the free agent market has the potential to bee better than this years (Dany Heatley and Marian Hossa being two potential prime targets).

Phoenix Coyotes
-Hmmm. Shane Doan maybe?
-They have some decent talent on defence with Jovanovski, Michalek, Ballard, Morris and Boynton.
-Pretty much everything but mostly they lack any top end forwards outside of Doan who is more of a second line player.
-Several backup goalies but no starters.
Question Marks:
-How bad will this team be?
-There isn’t much positive going to happen in Phoenix this season so the best Coyote fans can probably hope for is a last place finish and the first pick in next years draft.

San Jose Sharks
-Quality and depth of forward with Thornton and Marleau being one of the best one-two center tandems in the league and Cheechoo and Michalek providing some scoring from the wings.
-Excellent young talent in Michalek, Bernier, Carle, Pavelski, and Vlasic.
-The defense lacks a true #1 guy and the loss of Scott Hannan will be felt.
-Overall experience and/or depth at forward, on defence and in goal.
Question Marks:
-How quickly can San Jose’s young players really take their game to the next level.
-Can Nabokov stay healthy and/or will San Jose acquire a quality backup for him?
-The Sharks have the makings of a really good team but they are still missing some parts, particular a true #1 defenseman, and some experience this will hold them back from being true top tier Stanley Cup contenders. I think they need another year or two.

Sep 112007

I was going to write up team by team reports, and I may still do that for some teams, but I decided to first post some numerical evaluations of each team in nice and easily readable table format. I have divided each team up into Forwards, Defense and Goaltending and then divided each of those groups into Talent, Depth and Experience/Leadership and ranked each of those nine categories based on a score out of 10. I then summed up all 9 categories to get an overall team score. Below are my results for the western conference. Let me know what you all think. For the most part I am happy with them but if you can provide a good arguement I may consider making slight modifications.

Note: I made the assumption that Niedermayer will not play for the Ducks and I also factored in a few long term injuries (i.e. Steve Sullivan is expected to miss 3 months due to back surgery).

Update:While working on the eastern conference (and in conjunction with Triumph’s comment) I have decided to tweak the overall formula. The new forumula will weight experience significantly less and also give more weight to #1 goalie and less to depth (Vancouver, Calgary, New Jersey, etc. hardly need a backup goalie). This is the new updated table.

Forwards Defense Goaltending Total
Talent Depth Exp. Talent Depth Exp. #1 goalie Depth Exp. Score
Detroit 8 5 7 10 8 8 8 6 10 54.3
Vancouver 7 6 6 7 8 6 10 7 6 52.5
Anaheim 7 7 6 9 6 8 8 7 8 51.8
Dallas 6 7 7 7 7 8 8 8 7 50.3
Calgary 7 6 7 8 7 6 9 4 7 50.2
San Jose 9 7 7 6 7 5 8 5 7 49.8
Minnesota 8 6 7 6 8 7 7 6 4 47.5
Colorado 8 7 7 7 7 6 6 6 5 47.0
Edmonton 6 6 5 7 7 6 7 7 7 46.0
St. Louis 7 6 7 6 7 6 7 6 6 45.8
Nashville 6 7 6 7 7 6 7 4 5 45.2
Los Angeles 6 7 6 7 7 7 5 5 5 43.0
Chicago 7 5 5 5 5 4 7 6 7 40.8
Columbus 6 6 6 5 5 5 6 6 6 39.7
Phoenix 4 5 5 7 7 7 5 6 5 39.2
Sep 172005

Anaheim: J-S Giguere should start again for Anaheim, although he may not be recognizable without his over-sized equipment. Russian prospect Ilya Bryzgalov is a strong possibility for the backup role, however, former Ducks netminder Steve Shields has also been invited to camp and could claim the role. The expectation is that Shields and Adam Wall will play net for Anaheim’s farm team.

Calgary: Mikka Kiprusoff headlines Calgary’s attempt to return to as Western Conference Champions, and there is some question as to whether he can maintain the form he showed after being acquired from San Jose. The backup position remains less clear, as Philippe Sauve has struggled at the pro level (he played in the ECHL during the lockout) and Brent Krahn’s numerous injuries have limited his mobility and potential. Sauve, however, is expected to win the job.

Chicago: Given that six goaltenders saw NHL ice time for the Blackhawks last season, the signing of Stanley Cup champion Nikolai Khabibulin should ease the minds of fans. Although Thibault has played well since being acquired from Montreal for Jeff Hackett, Khabibulin is an instant upgrade. Michael Leighton is his likely backup, although he’ll be challenged by Illinois-native Craig Anderson in camp. Corey Crawford is a distant, if talented, prospect.

Colorado: David Aebischer, who unsurprisingly played in Switzerland during the lockout, returns as the undisputed number one man. Peter Budaj, a 22-year old prospect, seems likely to graduate to the NHL as his backup, although he may face a battle from free-agent signee Vitaly Kolesnik, who is currently the top goaltender for the Kazhakstan National Team. 26-year old Tom Lawson and CHL-starter Tyler Wieman are likely ticketed for the minors.

Columbus: Although GM Doug MacLean has stated that Martin Prusek will contend for the starting job, expect to see Marc Denis once again starting in net for the Blue Jackets. Prusek’s inconsistency and injury problems make it unlikely that he will be a viable starter. Pascal Leclaire, long tagged as the “goalie of the future” sits third on the depth chart. Tomas Popperle and Andrew Penner will likely only see minor league duty.

Dallas: Marty Turco, one of the best regular-season goalies in the past three years will start in net again. He hopes to rebound from a poor 2003-04 playoffs, where he went 1-4, with a 3.32 GAA and .849 SV%. Johan Hedberg, who struggled in Vancouver last season, was signed to back him up. Possible (but unlikely) challengers include minor-leaguers Mike Smith and Dan Ellis. Ellis played one game for Dallas in 03-04, making 25 saves for the win, but started the season in the ECHL.

Detroit: Although the combination of Chris Osgood and Manny Legace seems like a duo best suited to a 1a/1b goaltender scenario, coach Mike Babcock is on record as stating that he prefers one starting goaltender. If he in fact implements this system, give Osgood a slight edge to claim the top job, as Legace struggled last season when asked to play more than 30 games. 25-year old Joey MacDonald provides depth, while 2003 second-round pick Jimmy Howard represents a possible future starter.

Edmonton: Ty Conklin and Jussi Markannen will likely rotate games this season, and either could emerge as the starter. Markannen played well during the lockout, while Conklin emerged as Edmonton’s starter in 2003-04. There are questions about depth, as prospect Jeff Drouin Deslauriers needs seasoning and Mike Morrison needs more oppurtunities at the AHL level. Devan Dubnyk, projected as a future starter, will return to junior.

Los Angeles: Given the turmoil in net in previous seasons, it should come as little surprise that the Kings are once again sporting a new tandem. Replacing Cechmanek is 27-year old Mathieu Garon, a veteran of only 43 NHL games. Garon has long been tagged as a future starter, and played exceedingly well in the AHL during the lockout. Whether he can duplicate that success as an NHL starter is still unknown. His likely backup, 2003-04 AHL MVP Jason LaBarbera, has proven all he can in the minors, but with only 5 NHL starts is unlikely to take over if Garon struggles. Adam Hauser provides depth.

Minnesota: As in previous seasons, the tandem of Dwayne Roloson and Manny Fernandez will handle goaltending duties for the Wild, with Roloson likely getting the bulk of the work. Fernandez, who has previously requested more playing time, may be dealt. 21-year old Josh Harding provides depth and could eventually succeed Roloson as starter.

Nashville: Tomas Vokoun, who won the gold medal with the Czechs at the 2005 World Championships should again be one of the better starting netminders in the league. Current backup Chris Mason may be pushed by 1999 first-rounder Brian Finley, whose development has been stalled by a serious groin injury, although Finley seems likely to return to the AHL.

Phoenix: For a team that made a mountain of changes in the off-season, the biggest acquisition may be Curtis Joseph, who is likely to relegate inconsistent Brian Boucher to a backup role. This gives David LeNeveu, often described as a can’t-miss prospect, a little more time to play in the AHL, rather than being rushed into the big leagues. Veteran Steve Passmore will provide depth and injury insurance.

San Jose: Evgeni Nabokov will be back again as the Sharks starter, and should again perform well. The 1994 9th round pick played sparingly in Russia during the lockout, playing just under twenty games. Barring injury, Toskala should play a little less than his career high of 28 games from 2003/04. Dmitri Patzold and Nolan Schaefer, who split time in the AHL during the lockout will provide depth.

St. Louis: Patrick Lalime, following struggles in Ottawa, will receive a chance to rebound with a changing Blues team. He should be an upgrade over previous starters Chris Osgood and Brent Johnson. Reinhard Divis, Curtis Sanford, and Jason Bacashihua, all of who played during the lockout will battle for a roster spot, with Divis the likely winner. Marek Schwarz could provide goaltending farther down the line.

Vancouver: Dan Cloutier, having just signed a two-year contract, returns for his fourth season as the starter in Vancouver. He played in Austria during the lockout, going 7-0-5 in 13 games in an inferior league. The real battle will be between backup possibilities Alex Auld and Brent Johnson. Auld has the edge, and seemed to be guaranteed the job before the lockout; however, his play in the minors was eclipsed by depth goalie Wade Flaherty, who took the starting job in the playoffs. Johnson, four years removed from a 34-win regular season and a playoff round with three shutouts, could surprise.

 Posted by at 10:23 am